There are some nights where this rebuild the Sixers are in the middle of can look painful. Where their youth shows up with an abundance of turnovers and the early point in their development curves yields an abundance of missed jump shots.
Then there are some nights where you can see the plan starting to come together. The young kids on Brett Brown's squad make the extra pass, hit their open jump shots, and make quick enough defensive rotations to allow their length and athleticism to really become a disruptive force on that end of the court.
More and more frequently of late, the latter team is showing up.
The Sixers had one of their better shooting displays of the season last night against the Pacers, connecting on 11-24 from three point range, which was only one make off their season high. Robert Covington led the three point barrage by shooting 4-8 from downtown on his way to 16 points, but he had company: 6 different 76ers players connected from deep, including Jerami Grant (2-2), JaKarr Sampson (1-1), Tony Wroten (2-5), K.J. McDaniels (1-3) and Michael Carter-Williams (1-3).
The game included one stretch in the 4th quarter where Wroten, Sampson, and Grant hit three pointers on consecutive possessions. Those three have combined to shoot just 25.7% (49-190) from three on the season.
"I am asked so often about the situation that we are in, [about] getting people used to losing all the time. 'Is it going to become a habit? How do you deal with that?'," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. "And it's just so far from the truth. I feel like it's an opportunity for us to find ways to win."
For the second consecutive night, his team found a way to win.
Where the Sixers struggled to execute down the stretch Friday night up in Brooklyn, turning the ball over twice in a row before Michael Carter-Williams finally found Nerlens Noel for the game winning dunk, the Sixers and the Pacers traded buckets down the stretch in this one. The two teams combined to score 12 points in the final 2 minutes of play, with the lead changing hands 6 times before David West finally missed a long jump shot as time expired.
For Michael Carter-Williams, it was his second game-winning play in as many days. This time, with no timeouts to setup a play, he took the shot himself.
"[I] came off the screen and I saw some daylight and I just took it to the basket and tried to finish," Carter-Williams said after the game. "I knew I couldn't go over the top, because [Hibbert's] a pretty good shot blocker, so I went underneath and was able to get it off.
"It definitely builds our confidence. For us to be in games and be able to come up clutch in clutch moments is great," Carter-Williams said.
The Sixers held the Pacers to just 33.3% shooting from the field and 22.2% from three point range. The Sixers length was on display on the defensive side of the court, with the Sixers collecting 12 blocked shots. It was the second most blocks in a game in the NBA this season, bested only by the 13 blocks Toronto had against the Bulls on December 22nd. Nerlens Noel led the way with 5 blocks on the night, with rookies K.J. McDaniels (2) and Jerami Grant (3) chipping in as well.
K.J. McDaniels and Nerlens Noel are tied among the rookie leaders in blocks at 51. Jusuf Nurkic of Denver is a distant third with 32.
"[Defense has been] our emphasis this year, from the day we started training camp at Stockton," Brown said. "What you're seeing is just a very simple system finally take shape and people getting clarity on basic rules.
"What you're doing now is you're taking a bunch of long athletes, that are playing hard, and they're getting to balls sooner than they did a month ago. Because they're understanding that first step," Brown said. "They're not thinking as much as they used to. I'm proud of our defense."
On the offensive side of the court, the Sixers were led by their point guard play, with Tony Wroten scoring 20 points on 6-17 from the field, and Wroten and Michael Carter-Williams each contributing 9 assists. The Sixers once again got a huge lift from Robert Covington, who scored 16 points on 6-13 from the field.
"You just try to enjoy the ride as best you can because you have no idea where it's going to take you," Brown said about coaching Wroten when he's playing well. "We started the [4th] period with a fantastic pace, led by him, and then you throw some of those other young thoroughbreds out there, those young athletes, and you can't hit what you can't catch."
Brown said that he has liked Wroten's passing better these last two games.
"I think it's real conversations that were had after the Milwaukee game," Brown said when asked about Wroten playing better team ball. "We were selfish against Milwaukee. We didn't pass the ball.
"I think the group has bought in the last 2 days, and you're seeing a byproduct of that from Tony," Brown said.
For a team that started the season off 0-17, the play of late his been a step in the right direction. 2 in a row, 3 of their last 4, and 5 of their last 11. It's not much, but it's steps toward respectability. More importantly, it's steps towards consistency.
"Momentum builds when they feel good about themselves," Brown said. "[Winning] back to back games is a byproduct of feeling good about themselves. And they should."
"We had a really, really slow start. We've come together, we've been able to build some chemistry, and we work really hard together," Michael Carter-Williams said. "I think we know what it takes to win games now."
The Sixers now get 2 days off in a row for the first time in 2015 before starting a stretch of games where they'll have 4 games in 5 nights. For now, at least, winning has become a habit.